Many growers seem to have changed their view about Brexit a year after most came down firmly in favour of staying in Europe. Almost all UK growers spoken to by Horticulture Week at the British Plant Fair in Stoneleigh said Brexit has had no negative impact on their business, while some said exchange rates are helping trade. A year ago at the same event 80% of exhibitors warned that Brexit could have dire consequences for trade and said they would vote to stay.
British-grown stock is now on a more even playing field price-wise with continental stock and garden retailers such as Hillview Group say "Britpot" promotions are a way to show that British plants are a better deal than ever this season. Nurseries including New Leaf Plants, Wyevale Nurseries and Hillier confirm that there is more interest in homegrown stock this year.
Hillier managing director Chris Francis says exchange rates "have given us an element of difference, a percentage of advantage". Hillier nursery sales have seen 15% growth this year, which Francis said is "a lot to do with changes in the team, product and how we're presenting ourselves, but exchange rates have helped to some degree."
Wyevale Nurseries' Adam Dunnett said: "Overall Brexit has had a positive effect. We're starting to see a little bit of Britpot customers coming through. But loyalty only goes as far as being able to offer the right product at the right price. We are benefitting from the exchange rate at the moment and while that's the case we can push British horticulture and the advantages of UK nursery stock.
"We have upped production a bit and we have a plan to increase production quite a lot over the next few years. Expanding volumes is part of the equation but we're improving efficiencies as well in the supply chain. You have to be super slick now." He points out that customers are only prepared to take on price increase caused by increased wages, transport and other overheads so investing in bringing plants from the field to dispatch with kit such as better lifting machinery can cut costs.
Wyevale Nurseries Colin Turvey added: "From the garden centre side a lot of people are still going to (Dutch trade show) Groen Direkt but saying that the prices are going up. The big comment I'm getting is that British nurseries have been slow to react because it's all very new to us. We have streamlined nurseries and growing extra stock is going to take planning and finance. Speculative growing days are gone."
Matt Graham of The Plant Yard said Brexit "came at the worst time in June". The firm "caught a cold" and lost 15% margin on exchange rates. Hedging currency is a way forward, as is buying more British stock, he suggested. He has bought 30% less from the eurozone since June, including a range of UK 9cm herbs.
Imports more expensive
Paul Brooking of Quality Ornamentals said imported plants such as Felicia Felicitara are 15-20% more expensive, with a "definite movement in these crops towards us". Chapel Cottage Plants David Green added: "A bit of business has come our way, but that's only with the floating customer." But he has employed three recruiters to get enough seasonal staff because of "fear factors" about Brexit's outcome.
Growforth owner Stan Green said: "Brexit has not yet had an effect because Article 50 has not been signed yet. Suppliers I've been talking to are being pragmatic. If there's opportunities, let's take them." But he said two years' lead time is "very short" for most production processes and businesses do not want an uncertain environment.
New Leaf Plants' Andy Jeanes said: "People are buying less European stuff. We've had more customers coming to us because they can't get it as cheap from Europe." Golden Grove's Roger Ward said the main result of Brexit is that changes to exchange rates have made Dutch imports more expensive. "People are going to think twice and buy British as a result," he added.